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Urban Atlantic Managing Partner Lois Fried On Women In CRE, Workforce Housing And The Most Stressful Day Of The Pandemic

"EagleBank is proud to present the DMV Changemakers Series, sharing the experience, work and perspectives of innovative real estate business leaders across the Washington, D.C., market. At EagleBank, we have a singular purpose: to be community builders. Our CRE financing continues to make a positive impact in communities throughout the mid-Atlantic. Our partners are setting the standard for the CRE industry by delivering projects that align with their communities’ needs.” — Susan Riel, president and CEO, EagleBank

Urban Atlantic Managing Partner Lois Fried

Over her 35-year career, Urban Atlantic Cos. Managing Partner and co-founder Lois Fried has focused on community development investment, deploying more than $5B in capital. She has financed mixed-use/mixed-income projects, leveraging public and private funds with tax-exempt bonds, TIFs, PILOTs, tax credits, conventional equity and NMTCs. Fried also serves as president of Urban Atlantic Cos. subsidiary Mid-City Community CDE, a Community Development Entity certified by the U.S. Treasury Department. 

Founded in 1998, Urban Atlantic is a nationally recognized, women-owned urban real estate development and investment services firm located in the Washington, D.C., metro area. Bisnow recently spoke with Fried to learn how the last two years have impacted her and Urban Atlantic and where she thinks the industry is heading. 

Bisnow: What's been your proudest accomplishment since the start of the pandemic?

Fried: One of the things I am most proud of was our ability to maintain our commitments and our connectivity to our employees, residents and partners during a time of uncertainty and in what felt like living in a virtual reality. Our business is hands-on and our ability to work collaboratively, to touch and serve our customers is paramount. We did an excellent job being resilient, instilling confidence and maintaining a sense of belonging and well-being within our own company and our wider community. 

Bisnow: Tell me about the most stressful day you had while leading your firm through the pandemic. 

Fried: St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2020. That’s the day we shut our offices and established remote working. There were so many concerns for the welfare of our employees and so many unknowns and challenges about the future. 

The future was murky, not knowing if construction would be shut down, whether the financial markets would tank, how would people work from home, how would we serve our residents, our partners and investors. What would this new isolated working environment bring? 

Bisnow: How did you get through? 

Fried: We took it one step at a time. We established concrete work plans and protocols and good practices for maintaining our team’s connectivity. We honored and empowered our people, embraced creativity and faced each challenge with a renewed sense of optimism.

Bisnow: What's the biggest risk you've ever taken?

Fried: The biggest risk I ever took was in 1998 when I left my job at the Montgomery Housing Opportunities Commission to become one of the founding partners of Urban Atlantic Cos. With four partners and a great investor, we started from scratch a women-owned company that had a vision, but no pipeline of projects. 

Bisnow: How do you and your firm advocate for and advance the interests of underrepresented groups in CRE, whether by gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.?

Fried: Urban is a women-owned development and finance business. We are defined by inclusivity, especially toward gender, race and sexual orientation. We also are guided by a principle mission to mentor, train, develop and support female and minority talent, both in development and finance roles, and invest directly in minority-owned businesses, locally and nationally.

Bisnow: If you could change one thing about the CRE industry, what would it be?

Fried: Commercial real estate is still in great need of more diversity and more inclusivity, especially in decision-making roles that traditionally have been filled by White males. As we do at Urban, you must be intentional about casting a wide net for talent, then providing mentorship, training and a seat at the table.

Bisnow: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing commercial real estate now? 

Fried: The production of ground-up workforce housing in the DMV. While we are making great strides developing and expanding affordable housing, the biggest challenge today is coming up with efficient physical and financial structures to increase the number of new workforce housing units for our teachers, firefighters, police officers and journeymen.

Towards this effort, Urban recently closed on a ground-up, 100% workforce housing community using innovative financing. There is a need to bring additional capital and creative resources to this arena.

Bisnow: Where do you see as the biggest opportunity for investment in the CRE world?

Fried: The biggest opportunity for investment in the CRE world is providing capital for emerging minority enterprises. Urban has a 17-year history of investing in minority-owned operating businesses and minority-owned and sponsored real estate. We see this as a huge area of opportunity.

Bisnow: What do you think people would be surprised to learn about you?

Fried: I am a single mother of a 15-year-old daughter born in Guatemala. My daughter is of Mayan descent and is a born engineer. I have no doubt one of her ancestors was the architect or engineer for some of history’s great monuments, the Mayan temples.

This article was produced in collaboration between EagleBank and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content. 

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